By Tim Tron
“And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” -Mark 9:35
The cold rain fell from the dark sky. It wasn’t nightfall, but it might as well have been. As I pulled within eyesight of the Ruritan’s building, I could see the line extended out past the overhang of the entrance. People were literally standing in the rain. I had seen the signs earlier that morning for the Chicken Dumpling Dinner starting at 4:30, but here it was only 4:38, and there was already a line out the door. I nearly turned around but something said to just buy some time, so I pulled into the General Store. I needed to drop off some newspapers anyhow, so it wouldn’t be that far off of my to-do list.
Barney and Otis were at their usual spots, Otis by the bench and Barney curled up in the flower pot by the door. The store’s overhang protected the dogs as they passed the dreary day in stride. There was lots of activity for the little town. “More than usual,” I thought to myself.
I stepped inside and placed the April copy of the Blue Ridge Christian News in the place where papers were to go; they had run out of the previous month, a blessing for sure. Trina, the store’s proprietor, was busy with several customers, so I didn’t want to bother her. Instead, I walked over to the wall where there were several old-timey photos of Collettsville back in the hay days, before the flood that nearly erased all existence from the valley back in 40. As I scanned the images, I started looking at the huge map that covered most of the wall. There were the names and places that the elders of the church often spoke about, Edgemont, Mortimer. Then I started to notice all the schools listed, most with a “col.” after the name. There seemed to be more schools than churches. Then I tried to find the name of the roads on which they sat and realized there was no Hwy. 321. Confused, I looked for a key for the map, and then it dawned on me, the date of its publication was 1931. This map was from the pre-flood days of antiquity.
“Another item of interest I must return to someday,” I mused as I looked out the window to see if the line had dissipated; it had not. As the customers began to leave the store, I was finally afforded the chance to speak to Trina about the papers being in the right spot. She assured me that they were fine and that they had run out.
“Several folks have been in picking them up,” she reported with a smile.
“That’s great,” I replied, then continued, “I thought I’d drop them off while I wait for the line to go down.”
“Oh wow,” she responded, “We were lucky, and somebody brought us ours,” she said pointing at the styrofoam to-go containers behind the counter.
“Good for you.” I looked out the window again to see if I could get in now without having to wait in the rain.
“They’re having a fundraiser for the little girl with cancer.”
At the sound of her answer to the question I had not asked, my heart sank.
“There’s probably a lot of folks coming from out of town that normally don’t come which is why it’s so busy.”
All I could do was shake my head yes. I thought of little Sam Holt back in Goldston and how I had come to know his family through the JAM program. When he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, many thought we’d never see him grow to become a young man, but the community of Goldston came together, not only in fundraising but as a community of believers in prayer.
Sam is still with us today, thanks be to God.
“Looks like I can make it now without getting too wet. Have a blessed evening I called back,” as I headed out the door.
“You too,” she said, waving.
The parking lot was full, so I parked over by the old medical center and walked. The front door of the Ruritan building was open with a few more people still filing out the door, but at least now the line was well within the shelter of the porch roof. Back in the day in Goldston, I would have already seen or spoken with several people I would have known, but now, in this new place, I rarely know anyone. So, I stood, scanning all the faces within, thinking of all the stories and testimonies that awaited to be told. There was nary an empty seat.
At this point, I still didn’t know who the little girl was we were raising money to help. The thing that stood out was
the number of people wanting to come to her aid. Not only were there people there to eat, but there was the army of volunteers working to provide the food, serve the tables, clean up, and to take the money. As the door swung open wider to allow guests to leave, a familiar face appeared who happened to be standing in the line; finally, someone I knew. It was one of my Facebook friends that had come out of a connection back to Chatham County, through his cousin Sam Cooper; John Fletcher Church and his good friend, Anna.
The first and last time we had met in person was when they came to the last Lay Speaking engagement I had given in Sugar Grove, NC. There we formally introduced ourselves and John told me that most of his friends just call him “Fletch.” It was an honor to know someone that I had only seen on Facebook had shown up to hear me speak. But when I find myself thinking in those terms, I try to remind myself, that it is God writing through me, and that it would be God speaking through me that they come to hear. In all that we do, we should always know that when we truly serve the Lord, we do all for him and not for self. Thus, when I decided to give every family a copy of my book, “Bruecke to Heaven,” as part of my presentation that day, it was almost amusing when I ran out before I got to my new friend. We both laughed. In my mind, I knew it was God’s way of saying, “You’ll be seeing him again.” It was then I said, “I guess I owe you a book.”
So, when we shook hands in our brief reunion of sorts nearly standing in the rain in front of the Ruritan building in Collettsville, the first thing I said was, “Great to see you and yes, I’ve got your book.”
As we made our way to our seats, it was heartening to find some of the members of the church I attend, Rocky Springs Baptist Church, seated and enjoying their meal. Their patriarch, Ray was there, a man that had been diagnosed a year ago with stage four lung cancer. His story alone is one of faith, miracles, and the healing power of prayer. We spoke briefly, as we often do at these type of functions, and then I moved on to try to catch back up with Fletch who was now also trying to find empty seats.
Once we were finally seated and squeezed around the table, Fletch’s friend Anna asked the rest of the table if they wouldn’t mind if we said grace. They all were more than happy to oblige. From the corner of my eye, I could see hands reaching out to hold others. It was then I began to see the world of connections open for my new friends. It seemed that nearly everyone in the place had been part of their lives at one point, yet they had never lived in Collettsville, which made it all the more surreal.
It all began innocently enough when Anna asked the lady across from her if she used to drive Brownies to a camp in a station wagon. The lady was still chewing her Chicken and Dumplings when Anna asked, so it took her a minute to swallow. You could almost see the wheels turning in her mind as she thought back through the many years. “Well, actually I drove Girl Scouts, she finally said, and that would have been when I was at Zion U.C.C.”
“Are you Mrs. Lloyd,” Anna continued.
“Yes, I am.”
“Oh, my goodness,” Anna replied almost dropping her fork. She was immediately transported back in time to when she was a young girl in 2nd grade. Mrs. Lloyd had only driven her once to a day camp for Girl Scouts, but they had brought Brownies along for the experience. You could see them both connect back to a time when their lives were much different. The elderly lady explained how she would drive them to camps in that old station wagon. From that point on, there were so many things to catch up with, children to share, and a lifetime of living.
As people passed by, either Fletch or Anna would wave to people they hadn’t seen or spoken too in years, each barely recognizing one another.
As Anna was sharing with Mrs. Lloyd, the lady next to her spoke up that she thought she remembered Anna from somewhere. It wasn’t long before Fletch’s friend had rediscovered Mrs. Eunice Watson, a former EC teacher at Patterson Elementary School. The myriad of tiny one-room schoolhouses came to mind on the map that I had seen earlier in the store as they continued to recall their shared work experiences. It was as if God had given me a glimpse of what was to come.
Then a lady, who was obviously related to the elderly lady Anna had made the connection too, sat down next to me. Her plate had been there for some time, untouched. She began to eat as she shared with Mrs. Lloyd how she had done all she could do to help.
At this point, I noticed Fletch intensely gazing at the lady that had sat next to me. He finally broke his silence when he called to her, “Mary?”
She looked up, again almost as stunned as Mrs. Lloyd had been when Anna had reconnected with her.
“Yes,” she paused.
“Well, my apologies for seeming like I was staring, but I thought I knew you.”
“John,” she replied, smiling broadly.
“That I am,” he grinned from ear to ear.
“I thought I knew who you were, but I wasn’t sure,” she said laughing. Later I would learn that it had been two years since they had worked together and not seen each other since.
Meanwhile, Anna, Mrs. Watson, and Mrs. Lloyd were still racing through the years of life.
Again, my mind drifted off to Goldston and all the families lives that were connected either through their church, their school, or their neighborhoods. Then in my new world, the school at which I teach, and how when we come together as one, we make all the more difference, not just in one life that might need help, but in all of those that become part of the greater being.
Mary and John went on to share with me their work at the LEOS in Lenoir, where homeless people were being taken in and the ministry they serve in that mission. They told me of the early days and how they had met while working the night shift for LEOS in the old high school gym and all the trials through which they had struggled. Mary went on to tell me about the problems they now face, most homeless either being addicts or alcoholics. “We still try to help those that really need the help, especially families that are in need.”
About that time another couple women sat our table, Jennifer, and Ginny, and once again, they called out to John; more connections, more people who knew each other in a community that went beyond the four walls of the Ruritan’s building.
Fletch turned to me at one point and said, “A small world,” he said, half chuckling, “That would be another great story.”
I nodded, “Yes, it would.”
At that point, the room became a buzz of conversations and fellowship. Each story that was told had a connection to another, and with time, a shared memory was created, all for a cause that would ease the medical burdens of a young girl’s family. We may not know Johanna, or we may not know her family; we may not know the stranger who we give a warm bed on a bitterly cold night, or we may not know the child that receives the gift box in a time of need, but in the end, when we come together as a family of faith, we become greater than we might ever know individually.
Jesus had taught his disciples that we cannot stand alone, but our calling is to serve those around us, to be the least of these. “Tend my sheep,” he told Peter upon his last response to being loved. Then Jesus went on to help them to understand their position in His ministry as it was written in the gospel of Mark, “And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”
When we put ourselves last, we put Him first, and in the end, serving as Christ is all that we should endeavor in this life. For this earth, God’s creation, it’s but a tiny existence in all of the heavens unto which we are born. In the massive scale of the universe, we are but a tiny speck; yes, a small world. For, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Tonight, we dined for a cause, to serve another. In essence, tonight, we broke bread with one another, and in so doing, shared the body of Christ.
Yes, we might live in a small world, but we serve a great God.
Thanks be to God.
For more information on donations for Johanna Hayes Cancer Fund, please contact Craig Styron, Principal of Collettsville School, at (828) 754-6913, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also follow her journey on Jo’s Journey Facebook page.